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GM Checklist for Pathfinder Convention Games — Part I

2011 November 28
by Stan Shinn

Following this thread on, I’ve compiled a list (with some of my own additions) of 12 steps to take in preparing to run Pathfinder Society games at a convention.

  1. Read the module. Read it before you get there and again at the con before you run the game. Reading the mod before you get there allows you to do the following.
  2. Prepare the encounters. Highlight the key passages, DC rolls and traps. Set aside monster figs that you know you’re going to use for a particular encounter and keep them ready. One way to organize is to use ziplock bags with post-it notes or note cards noting the encounter.
  3. Prepare the maps. I either draw them out ahead of time and move a book to ‘reveal’ the map to pcs or (recently) shell out $0.75 for a black and white rendition of the map at the local Fed-ex. Drawing the map saves on precious time. You can also get large sheets of 1 inch ruled graph paper and draw your maps before going to the convention. Fold them up with each adventure. Gaming paper is another great option. If you have some flip-mats or map packs that correspond to the adventures, use them, if you have the space. They look great and a blank side can be used when you need to draw an unplanned map (or run a random adventure).
  4. Print out the stats for any monsters named without stats in the adventure. You can usually find them in the PRD. Do this for every adventure. And any animals you may need as a player. The extra pages will be a lot easier to lug around than the Bestiaries.
  5. Prepare the certificates. Sign everything on the bottom. Know your GM number, know the event code, and write your name legibly on the certificate in case a player has questions.
  6. If you have the funds, get a good tablet, laptop or netbook. You can load it with PDFs of the books and adventures or access the online PRD if you have internet access. Don’t settle for a device that takes more than a few seconds to load a PDF or turn a page. You won’t use it (at least for checking books at the table).
  7. Bring a few extra PC minis and dice for new players to borrow or for players who forgot theirs.
  8. Bring a map of the Inner Sea to show players where they will be.
  9. Bring printed copies of the PFS character sheets (found on the last 2 pages of the PFS Guide) and copies of the 4 standard pregen PCs at each tier for the adventures you will run.
  10. Don’t forget pens, markers and pencils (with erasers).
  11. Index cards. Great for tracking initiative, makeshift table tents, large or huge monster tokens, etc.
  12. Bring a copy of the current PFS Guide, Traits doc, PFS FAQ, Additional Resources and maybe an extra copy or two of Chapter 2 from the PFS Guide (character creation).

Get all this together well before the convention (or game day) and keep it up-to-date and well stocked so you don’t have to spend time on this in the last few days before the con when you should be getting plenty of sleep and reviewing your adventures.

Pathfinder Modules by Level

2011 November 20
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by Stan Shinn

Paizo, the producers of Pathfinder RPG, also have a number of pre-published adventure modules which could be candidates for gameplay as new users of the Pathfinder Beginner Box progress in their level. After some research, I’ve listed by level the modules I found available. I haven’t played all of these, but if you’re looking for a concise list of modules based on your groups average party level, this list might come in handy.

Most of these should be traditional adventure modules which are usually self-contained and can be plugged into most any setting. RFRPG means the rules are specifically written for Pathfinder. OGL means the module was written for the 3.5 system, and might require some very minor conversion to use within Pathfinder.

Once you’ve progressed as a GM, you can also consider Paizo’s Pathfinder Adventure Path line, which are epic, 6 part adventure series which can take a year or more to play.

Level 1

  • Crypt of the Everflame (PFRPG)
  • Master of the Fallen Fortress (PFRPG)
  • The Godsmouth Heresy (PFRPG)
  • Into the Haunted Forest (OGL)
  • Hangman’s Noose (OGL)
  • Hollow’s Last Hope (OGL)

Level 2

  • Crown of the Kobold King (OGL)
  • Hangman’s Noose (OGL)

Level 3

  • Feast of Ravenmoor (PFRPG)
  • Masks of the Living God (PFRPG)

Level 4

  • Flight of the Red Raven (OGL)
  • The Midnight Mirror (PFRPG)
  • River into Darkness (OGL)

Level 5

  • Carrion Hill (PFRPG)
  • City of Golden Death (PFRPG)
  • Carnival of Tears (OGL)
  • Tower of the Last Baron (OGL)
  • Revenge of the Kobold King (OGL)

Level 6

  • Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale (OGL)
  • Entombed with the Pharaohs (OGL)
  • From Shore to Sea (PFRPG)
  • Hungry Are the Dead (OGL)

Level 7

  • Carrion Hill (PFRPG)
  • Realm of the Fellnight Queen (PFRPG)
  • Seven Swords of Sin (OGL)
  • Treasure of Chimera Cove (OGL)

Level 8

  • Crucible of Chaos (OGL)
  • Cult of the Ebon Destroyers (PFRPG)
  • Gallery of Evil (OGL)
  • The Pact Stone Pyramid (OGL)

Level 9

  • Beyond the Vault of Souls (OGL)
  • The Harrowing (PFRPG)

Level 10

  • Clash of the Kingslayers (OGL)
  • Curse of the Riven Sky (PFRPG)

Level 11 and beyond …

  • The Ruby Phoenix Tournament (PFRPG) (11)
  • Guardians of Dragonfall (OGL) (12)
  • Academy of Secrets (PFRPG) (13)
  • Tomb of the Iron Medusa (PFRPG) (14)
  • Blood of Dragonscar (OGL) (15)
  • The Witchwar Legacy (PFRPG) (17)

The above adventures are available by searching the product listings at

Starting and Running a Role-Playing Games Club

2011 November 19
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by Stan Shinn

Katrina Middelburg-Creswell, a Middle School teacher managing a 40 member student RPG club, is featured on where she showcases best practices she’s learned in growing her games club.

The handouts includes a club survey, GM cards, a Mini-Con schedule and club permission slips. The in-depth article contain great advice for any sort of organized game play!

Katrina writes:

“I didn’t realize what I was starting the day I sat down behind my desk to GM those four 7th grade students. Today, five years later, our RPG Club has three faculty advisors, and both Middle and High School students playing. Students carrying dice bags and Player’s Handbooks have become a normal sight in the hallways. We average between 30-40 members each year, have our own website, mini-library of gaming materials, and a page in the yearbook. One parent GM gleefully put it this way: “We’re bigger than the basketball team!” Along the way I’ve learned a few lessons about setting up not just one gaming group, but an entire club, with 4 or more different campaigns going on at once.”

Read the full article and download the handouts at

Follow-up Adventures for Pathfinder Beginner Box

2011 November 18
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by Stan Shinn

I’m about to embark on running the Pathfinder Beginner Box adventure and I’ll be taking this opportunity to learn the Pathfinder rules better.

What adventures should I run next after the Beginner Box adventure? Here’s one road map; feel free to give feedback:

Start with the Beginner Box rules and the four iconic character classes. After that, run adventures in this order:

  • Beginner Box Adventure in GM Guide (1st level)
  • Pathfinder Module: Crypt of the Everflame (1st to 2nd level)
  • Pathfinder Module: Masks of the Living God (3rd to 4th level)
  • Pathfinder Society Scenario #17: Perils of the Pirate Pact (4th to 5th Level

Around this time, I’d add in the following missing Beginner Box rules and convert over to the Core Rules:

  • Attack of Oppor­tu­ni­ties
  • Charg­ing on Sur­prise
  • Com­bat Maneu­vers and Com­bat Defense
  • Con­cen­tra­tion Checks to cast spells

Then I’d move on to

  • Pathfinder Module: City of Golden Death (5th to 6th/7th Level)

After this I might switch to an Adventure Path (Rise of the Runelords possibly, the new edition will be out in June) with new characters (opening up possibilities for all the Core classes), or perhaps continue on with the same Beginner Box characters along this path:

  • Pathfinder Module: Realm of the Fellnight Queen (7th Level)
  • Pathfinder Module: Cult of the Ebon Destroyers (8th Level)
  • Pathfinder Module: Curse of the Riven Sky (10th Level)
  • Pathfinder Module: Academy of Secrets (13th Level)

There is an XP gap in Crypt of the Everflame (taking you to almost, but not quite, to 3th Level) and Masks of the Living God (taking you to almost, but not quite, to 5th Level), but the Beginner Box Adventure and Pathfinder Society Scenario #17: Perils of the Pirate Pact adventure, plus a couple of random encounters should fill the gap. Similarly, if there are gaps after any other Pathfinder Modules, simply grab a level appropriate Pathfinder Society Scenario, or add in some random encounters. The XP gap in some of the modules in intentional as it is expected many GM’s will add in some additional material between modules.

Other possibilities to fill in the XP gap include:

  • Plot seeds in the Beginner Box GM Book for continuing the plot from the intro adventure.
  • Short mini dungeon in the GM’s Kit PDF which could be expanded upon.
  • Also, if you can’t find modules from Paizo which are appropriate to your game there are a ton of
  • Third party modules from Frog God Games, Super Genius Games, or from here.
  • Old 3.x Dungeon Crawl Classics modules from Goodman Games. They are out of print and would take a bit of conversion but they are generic enough setting-wise that they can be dropped into almost any campaign.

All of these (if scaled correctly) could be used as interludes in the Everflame/Masks/City series to overcome the XP gaps.

Low Prep-Time Pathfinder Adventures for Time-Strapped GMs

2011 November 15
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by Stan Shinn

I’m also strapped for time so I like to use commercially published adventures that will actually save me time compared to writing my own adventures. From the adventures I’ve read and from posts on Paizo’s forums I’ve come up with a stab at how long Paizo’s different adventures take, compared to how many pages you have to read and digest in order to run those adventures. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Pathfinder Society Scenarios — 14 Pages for 4 Hours Play (3.5 pages per hour of gaming)
  • Pathfinder Adventure Path (e.g. Rise of the Runelords) — 90 pages for 40 hours of play (2.25 pages per hour of gaming)
  • Pathfinder Module (e.g. Crypt of the Everflame) — 29 pages for 20 hours of gaming (1.45 pages per hour of gaming)

I’m sure people’s mileage may vary in terms of how long a game takes to run.  For example, not all PFS scenarios are created equal. Some are straightforward mini-dungeons that require almost no preparation, and others involve more investigation additional prep work since simple combat is not the only factor.

Based on the above though, it seems that Pathfinder Modules seem be the lowest prep time adventures to run. My experience is that when there is lots of text (e.g. Society Scenarios or AP) I may read it, but if a few weeks pass before I run the adventure, I forget a lot, and text-heavy adventures require re-reading or highlighting which can be very time consuming.


DIY Pathfinder Beginner Box Style Pawns

2011 November 12
by Stan Shinn

The new Pathfinder Beginner Box has generated quite a buzz. The fantastic pawns — stiff cardboard cutouts with bases that server as miniature substitutes — have players clamoring for Paizo to issue new sets of pawns.

Want to create your own do-it-yourself Beginner Box style pawns? Here’s a tutorial on how to do just that.

First, find some images you want to use for your pawns. In the example I’m using for this photo tutorial, I use images from the Pathfinder Paper Minis: Pathfinder Adventure Path #1—”Burnt Offerings”.  Those Paizo paper minis have their own method to stand them up using only paper, but they aren’t as attractive and don’t match the new slick Beginner Box pawns.

I created an Open Office Draw template. Download the RPG Hacker Pawn Template here. If you don’t have OpenOffice, you can download the software free here.

The images need to be either the Standard pawn size (28mm wide by 48mm high) or the Large pawn size (48mm wide by 63mm high). I use Gimp to take the image (which can be a screenshot or an image exported from a PDF) and resize it to one of these sizes. Make sure it is at least 200 dpi (though 300 dpi or 600 dpi will also work). Then, paste it into the OpenOffice template.

In OpenOffice, you’ll want make a second copy of the image and then right mouse click on the image and choose ‘Flip’ / ‘Horizontal’ to get a mirror image to use for the back of the pawn.

Once you have the images for the pawns set up in the template, then assemble your supplies. You’ll need:

  • Fantasy Flight Plastic Stands (I bought my for about $2 for a pack of 10 here)
  • Exacto Knife
  • Scissors
  • White 3mm Foam Sheet (I got mine at Hobby Lobby — cost $0.99 for one sheet).
  • A cutting board

Optionally, you can use a corner punch (also from Hobby Lobby) if you want to use the plastic card technique.

Here’s what the Fantasy Flight stands look like. They work about the same as the black stands that come in the Beginner Box, but they are a little bit tighter I think.

Next step is to cut out the pawn images from the template you printed out. I use an Exacto knife on a hobby cutting board for this.

Now on to cutting the foam out. There are two ways you can do this. The first is to take some plastic card (feels like a credit card — I used a comic book divider from the comic store for this image) and cut out a piece to the size of the pawn and use a round edge cutter from Hobby Lobby to round the corners.

You then use this as a guide to use your Exacto knife to cut out the foam. It is floppy, but don’t worry, once you glue it it will be stiff and feel like Balsa wood.

After I first did this a few time, I then discovered that the pawns themselves make good guides for your Exacto knife, so I’ve not switched to this technique. Whether you use the plastic card or a cardboard pawn, you use it as a guide to cut both the paper and the foam.

Then glue the images to each side of the foam. I use a glue stick, but rubber cement will also work.

Make sure it lines up correctly. You can move it around a bit before the glue sets to get it aligned just right.

One issue I’ve had if I take them out of the stands a lot is that the bottom edge can fray and catch on the plastic stand. So I found a solution.

Put Scotch tape along the bottom.

Then trim it with scissors.

Lastly, insert into the Fantasy Flight Plastic Stands. Here’s the final product. These were my first batch using the plastic card technique. My new pawns using the cardboard pawns for templates look even better. I figure it costs about $0.02 per figure flat, and about $0.25 for each stand. They look pretty good next to the regular Pathfinder Beginner Box Pawns I think.

Pathfinder Beginner Box Basic Combat Style

2011 October 26
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by Stan Shinn

I totally understand the need to not split the Pathfinder product line by creating an entire new ‘Basic’ product line (see the intense discussion on that here).  Here is what I suggest as an alternative.

Just as there are different XP tracks in Pathfinder Society (so you can stay at 7th level for a long time if you want to), so there could be a different ‘combat complexity’ method, a sort of sanctioned house rule which is called out in future editions of the product. It would be consistent with much of the Beginner Box rules. The “Basic Combat Style” might look something like this: read more…

Customizable Swords & Wizardry GM Screen Inserts

2011 October 24
by Stan Shinn

Courtesy of Michael White are homebrewed Swords & Wizardry screen inserts. The three interior panels are here:

Pictured in the thumbnail are these inserts used in Pinnacle’s three panel customizable screen from: . I have both the Hammer Dog four panel at and the Savage Worlds three panel. I like both.

Pathfinder Beginner Box Highlights Basic Play Opportunities

2011 October 7
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by Stan Shinn

The Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box is scheduled for an October 26th release! Absolutely love this new box format and it’s contents! View a video of the box contents here.

Some products and features I’d like to see in the future now that we have the Beginner Box:

  1. Have the entire Bestiary 1 & Bestiary 2 set of monsters available as a cardstock counters (just use existing art from Bestiary), with monsters which appear in bulk (orcs, goblins, etc.) as standalone sets so you can get lots of them. I guarantee you I and many others would buy this. Also, have a large range of character portraits (again, just use existing art, and print the cardboard counters in China). Woohoo!
  2. Support running Pathfinder Society modules in ‘Basic/Beginner’ mode. This would do two things: 1) I know so many people who don’t care for extra rules like attacks of opportunity, combat maneuvers — how about just sanction running Pathfinder modules in this ‘Basic’ mode way, with the caveat that GM’s advertise this in their game announcements? And 2) It would allow GM’s to run Society modules for Levels 1-5 in ‘Beginner’ mode — so you can advertise ‘Newbie Friendly’ games which ALSO give you Pathfinder credit, yet don’t use rules like AoO, combat maneuvers, etc.I do know many of the ‘OSR’ crowd who currently won’t look at Pathfinder due to rules complexity might take a second look if in fact there was formal support for a ‘Basic’ mode as a longer-term, fully sanctioned form of play.
  3. Lastly, I’d love to see the 60-odd page Player Handbook (or whatever you called it) as well as the 4 character sheet dossiers available for purchase in PDF and/or hardcopy format. This way a GM can buy the beginner box once, but run literally dozens of ‘introduce newbie players to the game’ sessions by just buying the incremental parts they need rather than having to buy another box set each time they run an intro game. What a great way to get GM’s to evangelize the system! I also think this is a whole new market — I know many teenage type players who are willing to play but not willing to read a 500 page manual. If a GM were running a Beginner Box game, the GM or players could buy Player Manuals for each player. After they mastered that part they could move on to other books.


Museum of the Mind’s-Eye

2011 September 23
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by Stan Shinn

Inspired by Ryan Macklin’s “Flash Game Design Friday” challenge, I created the following game called “Museum of the Mind’s Eye.” It uses two of Ryan’s mechanical ingredients:

  • A single token that sometimes is and sometimes isn’t possessed by the player
  • A countdown mechanic

I describe it as “Marvel Avengers” meets “Night at the Museum.” Here’s the game, totalling 483 words; feel free to download it and comment:

Museum of the Mind’s-Eye Game  (1 page, 483 words, a complete game by itself).

I also created an optional one page GM Adventure Tips accessory document which has some GM advice on running the game, and (more importantly) several pre-gen characters to use if you don’t want to create your own.

GM Adventure Tips (1 page)

Lastly, I added a one page GM Reference document. This is a simpler layout of the rules, plus it adds dice odds, which I find a handy feature to have at the table. In a sense, it is a one-page ‘GM Screen’.

GM Reference (1 page)

This game uses a generic ‘Haiku Story Game’ mechanic which is similar in spirit to Risus and Lady Blackbird. I hope to publish other material with this same light-weight story mechanic.

For your convenience, here’s all three documents bundled together:

Museum of the Mind’s-Eye Bundle (3 pages)

Enjoy. Let me know your thoughts.